CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Browns quarterback Cody Kessler took plenty of punishment behind a patchwork offensive line during the 2016 season, but the second-year signal-caller has a renewed sense of confidence because of improvements made at the line of scrimmage during the offseason.
On the first day of the new National Football League year back in March, the Browns signed free-agent interior blockers Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter, in addition to extending the contract of guard Joel Bitonio, and those additions have boosted Kessler’s confidence.
“It was awesome to see some of the guys we got in the offseason with JC and Kevin, and obviously, Joel sticking here, said Kessler. “It has been great.”
Last season, the Browns surrendered 66 sacks for 309 lost yards, and their top three starters suffered through at least 18 sacks each in limited play behind an offensive line that lost two starters, Bitonio and John Greco, to injuries.
Quarterback Robert Griffin III missed 11 games because of injury, but still took a team-high 22 sacks for 138 lost yards, while Kessler endured 21 sacks for 140 lost yards and suffered a pair of concussions in a month’s time.
Veteran Josh McCown was sacked 18 times for 126 lost yards.
“It is exciting when you get guys that have played in the league for a while and have that veteran mentality,” Kessler said. “You have guys like that here, too -- Greco and, obviously, Joe Thomas is one of the best to ever play the position. You have guys that have been here for a while, too.
“We are still learning with the younger guys, too, with (Spencer) Drango and some of those guys, Shon Coleman. I think we have a really healthy mix of vets and younger guys. It is exciting when you have guys that play at a high level and can compete and are impact players on the offensive line, like the guys we got in the offseason, as well as the guys that are already here. It is exciting, especially for a quarterback.”
In nine games, including eight starts, during the 2016 season, Kessler completed 128 of his 195 attempts (65.6 percent) for 1,380 yards and six touchdowns against just two interceptions. Additionally, Kessler posted a 92.3 quarterback rating.
In addition to confidence in his offensive line, Kessler has a renewed sense of belief in his own skills.
“From last year, specifically, I’m way ahead mentally, and physically, too, working out and training,” Kessler said. “Just having that second year, coming in here and knowing what to expect and what to work on, OTAs went great. Guys have got to compete, and we improved and learned from each other.
“I think the coolest part, too, is how well our defense is playing. It really does help you out as a quarterback and as an offense. For me, mentally, everything is night and day from knowing what to expect and coming in prepared. There are still a ton of things to work on this offseason, to continue to improve on and to get your best foot forward going into training camp.”